Opening Up the Archives

Two weeks ago, on November 23rd, SELCIE hosted our first symposium, Opening Up the Archives. The conference took place in a very festive Teviot Row House at the University of Edinburgh.

The conference venue, and Lyn Stevens opening the day

Our fabulous SELCIE team member and Museum of Childhood curator, Lyn Stevens, opened the day and gave her own talk on the Museum of Childhood archives that SELCIE have been working in for the last few years.

Next up was Conchúr Mag Eacháin, who spoke about the project he is working on at Dublin City University to digitise folktales collected by school children. Some of the stories are in Irish Gaelic and some English. They can be accessed here and stories are Tweeted by Conchúr here: @duchas_ie.

After a quick break, it was time to hear from Lucy Pearson from Newcastle University, and Kristopher McKie and Harjeet Kaur from Seven Stories. They spoke about the curation of their exhibition, Where Your Wings Were, which is based on David Almond’s award-winning book Skellig. The Seven Stories team spoke about how they wanted to include the experience of the north of England in the exhibition and, with the guidance of a group of children, designed an interactive exhibition which ran in June 2018. Keep up with exhibitions and events at Seven Stories here. 

Then it was time to hear from Ian Scott and Anette Hagan, both from the National Library of Scotland. Ian spoke about D.C. Thomson and the Library’s comic collections, discussing how trends and changes in society can be tracked in these interesting items. In her paper, Anette Hagan spoke about some of the oldest publications held at the NLS made for children.

You can also follow all of our Tweets from the day by searching for #OpentheArchives!

After a quick lunch break, we left Teviot and walked over to the Edinburgh University’s Main Library. There we were treated to a wonderful assortment of books from the Centre for Research Collections, which houses the University’s Special Collections. The team there brought out some of their most interesting items related to children’s literature, including a book signed by J.M. Barrie!

Paul Barnaby from the Centre for Research Collections guiding us through some of their children’s literature

After we returned to Teviot, Lucy Gibbon from the Orkney Library and Archive gave her paper. She spoke about the fascinating “Minervian Library”, which was created by children in 1860s Orkney. You can find out more about this amazing collection here.

Next up was Valentina Bold, who spoke about Scottish chapbooks. As discussed preciously on this blog (see the post here), chapbooks were produced cheaply and are very interesting souvenirs of how the working classes of the past consumed literature.

In our last talk of the day, Sìm Innes spoke about how Gaelic has been used in folktales and plays for children. He spoke about the differences between plays from different times and places, including how some display a mix of English and Gaelic.

A Tweet from SELCIE team member Joanna Witkowska, who chaired the panel

After Lyn Stevens did a lovely round-up of the talks and emphasised the importance of collaboration and communication between different institutions and archives, it was time for the wine reception, which was kindly sponsored by Edinburgh University’s Centre for the History of the Book (more information here).

SELCIE team members Elly Grayson and Jane Bonsall enjoying a well-deserved glass of wine!

The team all really enjoyed the day, which brought together those from universities, libraries, museums, and archives in a productive and useful way. We would like to thank everyone that came, and especially all of the speakers!

The team will now be taking a little break from posting on this blog over the holidays, but we will be back towards the end of January! Merry Christmas from all of us at SELCIE!

This post written by Katie Forrester and Danielle Howarth

Introducing …

This week our new team members will introduce themselves! They have written a little bit about why they joined the SELCIE team. 

Jane Bonsall

In her blog post on the 5th of October, titled “Theorising Scottish Children’s and Young Adult Literature,” Fiona McCulloch mentions the academic push-back against the treatment of children’s literature as a ‘serious academic pursuit.’ After all, according to popular opinion, children’s literature is simpler, more concerned with pleasure, and therefore less substantive than other literary forms, and correspondingly considered less worthy of academic focus. In its concern with imagination and magic, children’s literature may be seen as disconnected from reality (rather than merely exploring it from another angle), and in a moment when the perceived value of a program is based on impact, that is a particularly damning indictment.

These are the perspectives that I had internalised throughout my secondary and university education. The literature that I most loved, that brought me the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment, was not a respectable topic for rigorous academic study. I found a few courses in my undergraduate university that included the study of fairy tales, or children’s literature, but I viewed those classes as pleasant diversions from the real study of more ‘serious’ material. This perspective was reinforced by my peers, whose teasing about some of my course choices (though mixed with some envy, perhaps) stung enough to further convince me that children’s literature was just that – literature meant only for children.

It took years, a dose of self-confidence, and a move to a new country before I was fully able to shake that insecurity. In the meantime, I gravitated toward medieval romance which appealed to me in the same ways children’s literature always had, but by virtue of being written in another language and dating back six hundred years, had an aura of seriousness, of respectability, that more contemporary fairytales did not. In medieval studies I found the delight and passion and brilliant, generous peers that I had sought in other English literature programs, and unexpectedly, also a way back to children’s and young adult literature, in the person of Dr. Sarah Dunnigan. I first met Sarah through medieval studies, when taking her class ‘Falling in Love in the Middle Ages,’ but she subsequently introduced me to the ways that the study of children’s literature could be not only joyful, but also rigorous, serious, and with real academic merit. In both formal academic settings – in classes and children’s lit conferences – and informal settings, Sarah demonstrated that engaging with children’s literature was a valuable academic tool, and a way of understanding society and ourselves. Sarah helped me truly appreciate the many ways that texts ranging from Andersen’s tales to Barrie’s plays to contemporary fairytales could be not only enjoyable, but a window on the world, rather than an escape from it.

Joining SELCIE is an opportunity to peek through that window a little more often, to peer into the archives of childhoods past (both my own and of others) and reconnect with the sorts of wonder and joy that such literature has always inspired in me. It is also, at the same time, an opportunity to think critically about the value of the stories we tell to children, and how often that academic world ignores that value.

Elly Grayson

I learned about SELCIE through the inimitable and ever-enthusiastic Sarah Dunnigan. I’ve been so awed by the discoveries of the team so far; for book-lovers, the story behind SELCIE and the Museum’s archives is like a fairy tale all on its own!

Just before I joined the team, I visited SELCIE’s exhibition Growing Up With Books at the Museum of Childhood, and was in my element. Aside from all the childhood favourites I recognised – like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Barbar at Home by Jean du Bruhnoff – I also got to peek into the lives of the original owners of these books. One of my favourites in the exhibition is a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Legends.[1] Apart from being a beautiful edition with fabulous illustrations by Rex Whistler, the book’s materiality is so tangible. There’s the lovely hand-written inscription from the Auntie of the book’s owner, David, on the event of his 5th birthday; the fragments from newspapers about HCA c.1950; David even pasted in postcards, including of the statue of the Little Mermaid from his visit to Copenhagen!

Hans Anderson Mermaid Postcard

This speaks volumes (pardon the pun) about the richness of the Museum of Childhood’s holdings. It also speaks of the importance of the work the SELCIE team are doing; the wealth of material found in one book alone, never mind the entire store of 11,000+ books, provides seemingly endless research questions within the numerous fields of expertise that the team work in. I’m so excited to be joining such an incredible group of women on such an interesting project, and to be part of this adventure into the archives; follow us ‘down the rabbit-hole’; [2] ‘second to the right and straight on till morning’;[3] here it is, ‘a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea!’[4]

[1] Info taken from SELCIE’s book, Growing Up With Books: A Little History of Children’s Literature as seen through the Collection at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. ed. Sarah Dunnigan and Danielle Howarth. Edinburgh: SELCIE, 2018.

[2] Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: Macmillan & Co., 1895.

[3] J. M. Barrie. Peter Pan, With a Dedicatory Preface: To the Five. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1928.

[4] Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows. London: Methuen and Co., 1908.

Anna McKay

My earliest experiences as a reader were, unfortunately, rather unpleasant. My mother taught me to read before I went to school, yet I’ll never forget the traumatic sense of shame I felt when my primary one teacher told me that I “couldn’t keep up”, and moved me down a reading group. My writing skills were, sadly, even worse; I continually mixed up by b’s and d’s, my 2’s and 5’s. From then on, I consistently rebelled against my mother’s insistence that Friday night was “Reading Night”, a night when we were allowed to stay up late and escape into books. I decided that, because I thought I couldn’t do it, reading was boring. A year later, my mother took me to the opticians, and everything changed. I unfortunately didn’t discover that the major reason behind my confused writing and slow reading was dyspraxia until the final year of my undergraduate degree, but with glasses and the right books, the adventures of the Famous Five and the Chalet School girls, I soon wanted every night to be reading night!

My hatred for reading during that time, however, was never a hatred for storytelling. Despite my rebellion, I still loved to hear stories read aloud, and my mother worked hard to find the loveliest tapes of books like My Naughty Little Sister, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Paddington Bear, and she often read to me and my sisters. I never tired of asking for, and she never tired of reading, “The Lady of Shalott”. Amongst my most precious childhood memories are the evenings when we would sit together leafing through her books of pre-Raphaelite paintings as she read the poem, transporting me to the Island of Shalott, and irately explaining the injustice and insufficiency of Lancelot’s conclusion, “She has a lovely face”. My love for the Arthurian poem continued to influence my reading as I began to select my books more independently. In preparation for our summer holidays when I was eight, my sisters and I were allowed to choose a new holiday book each, and I selected Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. I became so obsessed with all things Arthurian that, at the start of the next school year, I chose to write my personal project on Arthurian legend.

The most significant contribution to my development as a reader, however, were the coloured fairy books of Andrew Lang. One day when I was seven, my mother came home with The Orange Fairy Book. In awe of the book’s beautiful H. J. Ford cover and illustrations, I opened it and was immediately drawn into its world of beautiful, dark, and often frightening adventures. In the coming years, I made it my mission to obsessively collect all of these wonderful books, and mark in them my favourite stories. I re-read these stories time and again, but they never lost their magic. They taught me to think about the complexities of human emotion, of love and hate, jealousy and generosity, power and weakness. They developed the core interpretive skills which I rely upon now as a student of literature, working on my doctoral thesis.

I am thankful for my reading experiences as a child, and eternally grateful for the patience and love with which my mother shared her love of books with her children. The books I read as a child continue to give me joy and pleasure, and are always there with their wisdom and comfort in times of need. For these reasons, it is a privilege and a delight to begin working with SELCIE, and to continue discovering treasures in their archives.

Children Pictured in Children’s Literature

In this blog post, I will explore how many factors – both technological and ideological – have affected changes in the development of the illustration of children’s books. Within contemporary children’s literature criticism, it is argued that ‘children’s books’ can be for readers of any age (Beckett 2008). This age crossover is obvious in the case of popular fiction titles across centuries, such as Robinson Crusoe, which has been adapted to children’s fiction, a pop-up version of which can be seen below. Whereas literature marketed primarily to adults has traditionally been adapted to the child audience, in more recent decades, children’s books have been making their way into the adult market[1] . But, how did a literature for children emerge and how do past messages contained in children’s books inform manifestations of books made specifically for children today?

A pop-up version of Robinson Crusoe on display in the Growing Up With Books exhibition at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood

Through my position as Artist-in-Residence at the children’s literature archive in the Museum of Childhood, I have been lucky enough to be able to explore this question for my personal research. As a starting point for this topic, I examined chapbooks held in the archive at the Museum of Childhood, which has bindings from the seventeenth century. Chapbooks were the first articles of printed literature that were affordable for families in Britain and had influence in their daily lives. The content was varied and covered many subjects and stories including nursery rhymes, morals and fairytales, but also, crude jokes and stories of an adult nature (more information here). These chapbooks were not usually made for a specific age of audience, it was only in novels of the twentieth century that illustration began to be omitted from books for adults (Michals 2014). Therefore, up until fairly recently, illustration was a part of most literary prints for all ages.

Illustration both for chapbooks and bound books had until the early nineteenth century been printed using woodblocks, which, though often skilful, were sometimes crudely printed. In the case of chapbooks, the woodblocks could often be worn and mismatched with colour sometimes painted by hand. Three examples of woodblock-printed chapbooks from the archive are shown below:

Chapbooks on display at the Growing Up with Books exhibition on display at the Museum of Childhood

The presses that were used to print such chapbooks were forms of the Gutenberg press, which uses a flat ‘platen’ and screw mechanism to exert pressure evenly on the paper below. The Gutenberg and similar designs of press that would have printed chapbooks were originally made from wood; later, they were made from cast iron, which made more precise prints. An example of a press used in Edinburgh is the Columbian Press; one of these presses is on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, pictured below:

Colombian Press at the National Museum of Scotland

As printing production technologies advanced, the illustration of children’s books became more detailed and explorative. By the late eighteenth century, illustrators’ drawings could be reproduced in books using the more refined process of metal-plate etching, a method capable of achieving finer detail than the previous woodcut (Whalley & Chester 1988). Etching, or ‘intaglio’[2] printing, could provide a reproduction of a much finer pen and ink drawing made by the illustrator, which would have been transferred to a copper plate by the engraver, and then printed using a ‘mangle’ type press. Colour could also be added using woodblocks to give hue and tone to the intricate linework achieved through the intaglio process (Salisbury & Styles 2012).

The results of these new reproduction processes enabled representations of stories depicted in books to become more exact and specific. Illustrators were able incorporate popular stylistic trends from the fine arts, such as in the art of Victorian illustrator and book designer Laurence Housman, who used of art nouveau in his drawings for Goblin Market (Rossetti 1862) seen below:

Goblin Market (1893)

As the nineteenth century progressed, a process of printing using oil-based ink and water-resist was invented called ‘lithography’. Lithography allowed for both linework and colour to be printed more quickly and efficiently. Printing as an industry boomed with steam-powered presses, and, alongside these technological advances, how society thought of children in the nineteenth century was also rapidly changing.

Generally speaking, before the Enlightenment period, children worked alongside their elders from the age of eight and assumed adult responsibilities and dress (Cunningham 2012). This changed as a consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation; campaigners began to seek to protect children from dirty and dangerous labour. Children began to be thought of as part of nature and, through the process of ‘becoming social’, joined the civilised, adult world (Prout 2005, p. 67). This idea was expounded by Rousseau (1762), who likened childhood to primitivity and argued that children are inherently ‘good’ and adult society corrupted (Whalley & Chester 1988).

An example of the art included in books for children in Children’s Stories from Shakespeare

Interestingly, Chester and Whalley point out that there is a visual change in the depiction of children in literature from the first publications during the nineteenth century:

“In the earliest books, children were shown as young adults … At the beginning of the 19th century they were depicted more as children … by about the 1840s, or even earlier, we sometimes get the feeling that the artist was making a conscious comment on the child: ‘See how quaint – cute – amusing – pretty’ he is saying to us, the onlookers’” (1988, p. 53).

As described by Chester and Whalley, examples shown in the pictures below show how illustration coded attitudes towards childhood by othering the audience they were made for. This change in adults’ view of young people is linked to children’s exclusion from the workplace and, the stress of living in close, dirty cities away from nature, as was described earlier.

Divine and Moral Songs (1830)

Divine and Moral Songs (c.1899)

In the first woodcut image by an unknown wood engraver, the child is dressed similar to the adult and their posture is similar; it shows the child learning from the adult, but does not portray the youth as naive. However, in the latter illustration by Mrs. Arthur Gaskin (c.1899) the children look almost like dolls; their dress is extravagantly floral and their faces are flushed with innocent expressions that looked oddly blank. Though the woodblock engraver was restricted in terms how detail and colour, it is a striking difference from the vision of childhood shown in Gaskin’s illustrations.

The romantic concept of childhood remains evident in the censoring of children’s books today, though there are signs of a changing notions of what childhood is in the twenty-first century. Notably, I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen alludes to the insincerity that children are aware of and perform in the same way as adults. This picturebook ends with the audience sharing in a sinister joke that the bear ate the rabbit and is guilty (Klassen 2011).

I Want My Hat Back (2011)

In today’s busy, scheduled lifestyles in modern, urban society, it is interesting that books such as Klassen’s are extremely popular. They appear to acknowledge that children are not faultless and are able to make moral decisions. This attitude to childhood is reflected by sociologist Alan Prout: “… the appeal of the idea of children as active and socially participative can be traced to the obvious advantage that such children would have in the everyday management of household timetables” (Prout 2005, p. 24). Additionally, this book and others by Klassen are bought for adult-reading too:

“The negotiations between what grown-ups and children want, and between what adults are familiar with and children are still apprehending, provide the tension that makes children’s books possible” (Sutton 2012).

These ideas challenge the long-established Rousseauian, Western view of childhood as innocent, as inferior and in need of civilising. The concept of contemporary childhood, then, has a direct effect on the way illustrators construct images for picturebooks.

To summarise, as is evidenced in Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood archives, literature made for children is continuously adapted to new demands and challenges within society. Contemporary books for children, such as Klassen’s, act as sites of tension between preceding generations and the next, exploring new ways of viewing and defining what it means to be a child. A selection of books from the archive are currently on display in the exhibition Growing Up With Books, open until December 9th!

This post was written by SELCIE Artist-in-Residence Katie Forrester

Works Cited

Beckett, Sandra (2008) Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives. New York, USA & Oxon, England: Routledge.

Cunningham, H. (2012) The Invention of Childhood. London: Random House.

Maclean, Robert (2012) “Book illustration: engraving and etching.”

Michals, Teresa (2014) Books for Children, Books for Adults: Age and the Novel from Defoe to James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prout, Alan (2005) The future of childhood: towards the interdisciplinary study of children. London, New York: Routledge.

Salisbury, M. & Styles, M. (2012) Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling. Laurence King Publishing.

Sutton, R. (2012) “Little Tug” and “This Is Not My Hat.” The New York Times. Available at:

Whalley & Chester (1988) A history of children’s book illustration. London: J. Murray with the Victoria & Albert Museum.

For more information on book illustration:

[1] Most notably fantasy fiction authors such as JRR Tolkein, Phillp Pullman and JK Rowling.

[2] ‘Intaglio encompasses a variety of different techniques including engraving, etching, stipple, aquatint and mezzotint. While each of these techniques implies a different method of making impressions in the metal (usually copper) plate, they all share the same basic principle: an image is transferred to paper, under pressure, from the incised ink-bearing grooves of a metal plate’ (MacLean 2012).

SELCIE Goes to the Edinburgh International Book Festival!

None of us imagined when we first started unpacking the Museum of Childhood book collection over 2 years ago, that we would subsequently be performing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  But it has happened!

In May 2017 I sent a tentative email to the book festival organisers, explaining that we were planning to create an exhibition of children’s books based on our findings in the archives.  And that with the generous funding of the University of Edinburgh, we would have a publication to go along with the exhibition.

At this stage we hadn’t written the book or finalised our themes for the exhibition, but we knew we had a good idea and that everyone loves children’s books!  Fingers crossed, they would be interested.  In October we finally met with them and described the wonderful collection, the work that SELCIE had been doing to bring the collection out from its crates and into the public domain.

After 4 months waiting, in February this year we heard that SELCIE and the Museum of Childhood would indeed be part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  We were all very excited – and all rather nervous about making sure we had the publication finished in time!  Sarah Dunnigan kept us to task, and the whole SELCIE team contributed to the final product – the Growing Up With Books book.

You can buy the book at the Museum of Childhood shop for a bargain price of £6.00 with the proceeds going to Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital.  And it will be available at the SELCIE conference on 23 November (more information about that here).

As the big day arrived we gathered at Charlotte Square where we hung out with fellow authors in the Author’s Yurt, and browsed the extensive book shop.

SELCIE hanging in the signing tent while Gordon Brown photo bombs in the background.

On the same day as our event, 15 August, some other celebrities were at the festival, notably the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Brian May from Queen, June Sarpong, Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin.  All quite daunting, but exciting too!  How amazing that SELCIE was part of this international festival.

Sarah and I got microphones attached and were led into our tent ‘theatre’ where our audience were waiting for us to tell them about ‘What children have been reading’.  We had almost a full house, and it certainly felt like we were being led onto a stage, about to perform. Sarah and I had so much we wanted to share with our audience about the Museum collection, so it was hard to condense it into 45 minutes, but we managed not to go over time, which meant the audience had a chance to ask us questions at the end.

I outlined the history of the Museum and the breadth of the book collection, highlighting some star objects and then describing the SELCIE project and five themes of the exhibition and book:

  • Learning to Read – Picture books, ABCs and nursery rhymes
  • Worlds of Knowledge – Early subjects that children studies, Natural History, Religion and Humanities
  • Shaping Identities – Gender specific publications and guides for how boys and girls should behave
  • Worlds of Imagination – The worlds of fairy tales and imaginary worlds
  • The Lives of Books – How people have interacted with books, inscriptions, owners and drawings

Sarah then talked about the theme of lost voices and emotional memory the archive: how it showed the importance of women writers and illustrators in the history of children’s literature across a diversity of genres; and contained imprints and traces of the young readers who once loved these books

We received an enthusiastic response after our talk, with a good selection of questions and conversation afterwards.

It felt like a privilege to be involved in such a prestigious festival, but I also know that the book collection stands on its own merit.  It is of national significance, which is recognised by the Scottish Government, and this is the start of its journey in being known to more people and being a valuable resource for students and the public.  None of the above would have been possible without the SELCIE team volunteering many hours, so I would like to say THANK YOU SELECIE and here’s to many more future projects.

This post written by Lyn Stevens

Summer with SELCIE

The SELCIE team have been busy since the exhibition opened at the start of June 2018. And, though we’ve not been to the archives very often recently, we have been out and about, sharing the findings of SELCIE.

On June 29th, Lyn, Danielle, and Morgan visited Magdalen College, Oxford University, to take part in the Children’s Traces one-day colloquium. The papers explored how children are made visible through the archive; through their diaries, letters, drawings and objects they owned, just like the Growing Up with Books exhibition exemplifies. Here are some photos from the glorious day:

Lyn, Morgan, and Danielle at Magdalen College, Oxford

Though she did not travel quite so far, another member of the SELCIE team, Lois Burke, also recently ventured south to attend the Sixth International Literary Juvenilia Conference at Durham University from the 5th – 8th July 2018. Lois assisted in organising the conference titled: Minority Voices:  Writing by children and adolescents from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, which excitingly saw the launch of the new Journal of Juvenilia Studies.

The photograph below, taken by Lois at the event, shows a facsimile of Charlotte Brontë’s satirical play The Poetaster, in which Brontë appropriates the male literary tradition: “published by no one, possessed by everyone”.

Facsimile from presentation by keynote speaker, Christine Alexander

Back at home in Edinburgh, the Growing Up with Books exhibition continues to be visited by the public and many tourists from all over the world – it is brilliant that these books are able to be enjoyed by so many. Creating an extra buzz in the gallery are workshops in relation to the books on display, held by artists and storytellers. More information on these can be found here:

Artist-in-Residence for SELCIE, Katie Forrester, ran two workshops – one making rubber-stamped books and one making beastie bookmarks! Here are some of the images of the action:

Still to come this summer are interviews of visitors to the exhibition – we hope to capture memories of some of the books on display to create an oral archive. This will form part of the legacy of the collaboration between the Museum of Childhood and SELCIE, for future researchers and children’s literature enthusiasts.

The SELCIE team will also be at the Edinburgh Book Festival; the slot is on the August 15th from 15:45 to 16:45 in Charlotte Square Gardens. For more information, please follow this link:

The SELCIE team hope you are enjoying this gorgeous sunshine and you are having a great summer so far! We hope to see you out and about at the exhibition or the book festival!

This post written by Katie Forrester

Growing Up With Books is open!

Selcie is all about stories, and this week’s had a very happy ending. Growing Up with Books launched at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood on Thursday night and opened on Friday 1st of June. It’s looking absolutely great!

Editions of Peter Pan

Some of the Museum’s editions of Peter Pan

It’s my pleasure in this week’s blog, on behalf of the team, to formally thank the Museum of Childhood for the privilege of working together. The Museum have been so welcoming, and generous, to Selcie over the past two years. They have allowed us full access to their amazing collection of 15,000 children’s books, and permission to play, in effect, by researching the history of Scottish children’s literature in this special and historic place.

The Museum of Childhood

I’d like to say a huge thank you, in particular, to Lyn Stevens and Susan Gardner, who were so open to discussing ideas back in 2016, when Sarah and I went to visit them together. Since then, they’ve been constantly supportive, and encouraging, to all the team, making the process of developing Growing Up with Books rewarding, and pleasurable for all.

Photographers were very much evident on Launch night!

We’d also like to thank all the children, past and present, including myself, who have been inspired by the Museum of Childhood. We appreciate the kindness of those grown up children who donated their prized books to this special collection. You can see some of them in the exhibition, others are yet to be shared. Without those people, Selcie’s work would have been impossible.

The cases are looking very enticing!

Edinburgh University, too, was an integral part of this story. Edinburgh City Museums and Council were incredibly supportive and the financial support we received from both was hugely appreciated. Without this, it would have been impossible to deliver the exhibition, or the exciting events programme that lies ahead. Nor would we have been able to produce the catalogue, edited by Sarah and Danielle, with proceeds from sales going to Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity.

I hope, as do all the Selcies, that you’ll have a chance to visit the exhibition before December 3rd, when it closes. There are six free events running over the summer at the Museum of Childhood, and our conference is on November 23rd. More details will follow in future blogs but, meantime, you can follow Selcie on twitter at @_Selcie_ and on facebook. Hope to see you at the Museum of Childhood soon, and don’t forget to buy your catalogue!

This post written by Dr Valentina Bold, University of Strathclyde


The Journey to Growing Up With Books

We cannot believe that SELCIE’s exhibition will be opening at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh next week! After years spent breathing in the beautiful smell of books, we are finally able to dust some of those books off, as it were, and place them in the spotlight. While this exhibition, Growing Up With Books, contains a fantastic collection of some of the most interesting pieces that the team has found over the years, there is only so much space in six cases, and not all of our books were able to make it into the exhibition. While we have tried our best to showcase our progress as well as our collection, there are some memories that remain buried in the archives of the City Chambers, so I would like to use this blog post to recall some memories and moments from our time together.

The red mailbox at the City Chambers on the Royal Mile was our meeting point, where one by one we could come from our various jobs or activities to volunteer our time (always incredibly gratefully!) with the books. As we made our way down the many flights of stairs to our tiny, dark room in the basement, and Lyn Stevens (Curator of the Museum of Childhood) would take out her keys and open the heavy door, you could almost feel the five or six of us relax from that indescribable scent of old books that hangs heavy in that room even now.

We would all get straight to work, choosing a box to start on for the day with pencil and paper in hand, and crack the lids off the boxes one by one. I cannot remember this ever being silent work, not entirely, because half of the fun of reaching into a box full of forgotten books is telling everyone in the room, ‘This one has a pressed flower in it!’ or ‘Listen to this inscription…’

Some days went faster than others, some boxes were more time-consuming than others, but I can still remember Joanna’s laugh every time she found ANOTHER copy of Pilgrim’s Progress or Danielle’s horror that there could ever be a book called The Death of a Wombat in a box of children’s books, and I will always remember Sarah (our fearless leader) and her gleeful face as she became all-consumed by a box of glorious fairy tales in a corner of the room. Sometimes Katie (our artist in residence) would disappear for the entire time, silently sketching, only to appear at the end with a notebook full of beautiful illustrations inspired by the books.

There are some memories that I hope I will never lose from this incredible time spent in the basement of the City Chambers, and I have to remember that even though this exhibition is partially the end of our time there, it is also the beginning of a new and beautiful chapter, one in which we get to share this secret and magical world of books in which we have been living for the past three years with all of you.

There are some things, though, that I hope will never end. I hope that I will always remember some of the most touching inscriptions and let them remind me to always gift and give books, especially to children. I hope that the smell of that room will find me in libraries and bookstores and take me back to those Thursday afternoons. I hope that the knowledge and friendships that I have gained in this experience will stay with me forever, so that I can always share how important it is to grow up with books.

This post written by Morgan Boharski

Illustration Research with SELCIE Artist-in-Residence

I became involved in SELCIE when member of the group, Sarah Dunnigan, kindly invited me to have a look in the museum of childhood archives held at the city chambers, where I met the rest of the team and joined the journey! In the basement, there is a room full of boxes the team have catalogued and another room with older books and chapbooks dating back to the seventeenth century. Over the last year, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to sketch from some of the books in the archive as SECLIE’s artist-in-residence and to inform my doctoral research on cultural representation in picturebooks.

Through my research, I found that the concept of childhood, and so the tradition of printing books for children in general, is part of Western tradition. In the archives, I search for clues of ideological bias that underpins illustration in children’s literature and how this has changed over time.

For instance, among the first adult books redacted for children were ‘adventure’ stories in the late eighteenth century that embedded colonialist messaging. I found versions of  adventure stories such as Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe and Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift redacted for a  child audience in chapbooks held in the Museum of Childhood archive:

Notes and typographical layout from chapbook of Gulliver’s Travels (1819)

I made a note of the following quotation from a version of Robinson Crusoe found in a chapbook in the archive:

“After this, Crusoe sailed to the Brazils, and recovered much of his property and plantations, and returned to England very rich. He sailed to his beloved island in a ship he had given to his nephew, and took many useful articles for the inhabitants, divided the island among them, and recommended religion and good fellowship as their guide.”

In this excerpt, it is evident that colonialism was socially-accepted in the UK at the dawn of children’s literature and normalised the hegemony of European cultures over their colonies.

Soon, stories appropriated from colonised parts of the world were commonplace in children’s literature in the UK as collectors of fairy tale began to redact folktales originating in other traditions and cultures. Andrew Lang, for instance, in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, included tales from many sources, for example, the Brothers Grimm, Madame d’Aulnoy, and Antoine Galland’s translation of One Thousand and One Nights from Arabic. I found The Yellow Fairy Book (1899) in the archives, and in it, Lang uses stories from countries including Norway (East of the Sun, West of the Moon); North America (The Boy and the Wolves, or the Broken Promise); and Russia (The Story of King Frost).

Cover of The Yellow Fairy Book (1889)

I made some sketches of the illustrations in The Yellow Fairy Book by Henry Justice Ford, which are included below:

East of the Sun West of the Moon

The Boy and the Wolves, or the Broken Promise

The Story of King Frost

This western bias in children’s literature began to be challenged in the mid-twentieth century during the civil rights movement in America, which influenced US and UK  illustrators to  include representations of a wider range of ethnicities in picturebooks (Whalley & Chester 1988). For example, Italian illustrator Gianni Benvenuti illustrated Russian Fairy Tales, translated by Marie Ponsot and published in New York in 1960:

Russian Fairy Tales

In the 1960s and 70s the move toward inclusiveness in children’s literature, encouraged by the tragedies of the Second World War and ethos of the civil rights movement, had an affect on how children were taught about cultural diversity. As a result, more illustrators experimented with styles that took inspiration from the folk art and crafts of other countries to illustrate collections of folktales. However, it can be argued that Western illustrators arguably often appropriated the vernacular of foreign cultures and so repeated colonial tendencies.

A sketch of a title illustration from page 11 of Russian Fairy Tales


Supported by sketches and notes made on visits to the SELCIE archive, I found the fairy tale narrative to be adaptable to changing social environments, while the essential elements of the story stay recognisably intact. In this way, fairy tales are one-dimensional enough to be remembered and retold, but expansive enough to take on ideas and meaning of a multitude of cultural contexts. My own artwork aims to be open to interpretation, giving more narrative voice and agency to readers. I try to provide further scope for readers’ imaginations to be unhindered by pictorial detail, as the fairy tales are able to evade specific descriptions of time, place and character in the text, enabling them to be malleable narratives, and so forever relevant.

Mulan leaves home (2018)

Battle on the Black Mountain (2018)


The SELCIE archive has been a very important part of my research project and continues to influence my illustration work, such as in the snippets from a recent illustration I made based on The Ballad of Mulan (c.5-6th CE), above, which I close this article with. Thank you for reading!



Chandler, D. & Munday, R., 2011. A Dictionary of Media and Communication, Oxford University Press.

Harding, J. & Pinsent, P., 2009. What Do You See?: International Perspectives on Children’s Book Illustration, Cambridge Scholars.

Lang, A. & Ford, H.J., 1903. The yellow fairy book, Longmans, Green.

Luthi, M., 1976a. Once upon a time. On the Nature of Fairy Tales (Bloomington, 1970), pp.85–86.

Nodelman, P., 1992. The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children’s Literature. Children’s Literature, Association Quarterly, 17(1), pp.29–35.

Pinsent, P., 1997. Childrens Literature and the Politics of Equality, David Fulton.

Rose, J., 1984. The case of Peter Pan, or, the impossibility of children’s fiction, London: London : Macmillan.

Whalley & Chester, 1988. A history of children’s book illustration, London: London : J. Murray with the Victoria & Albert Museum.

This post written by Katie Forrester, SELCIE artist-in-residence

Growing Up With Books

As you may already know (we have mentioned it once or twice), the SELCIE team is currently in the final stages of planning for an exhibition. Growing Up With Books, which will open at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood on International Children’s Day 2018 (June 1st), aims to tell the story of children’s literature in Scotland.

Beginning in October 2015, the road to this exhibition has been long and winding. The SELCIE team has spent around two years sorting and cataloging books in the Museum of Childhood’s archives. For the last year or so, this task has been done with the exhibition in mind. To organise the exhibition, each member of the team has taken responsibility for an exhibition case. We all decided on the themes of the exhibition, and of our specific cases, and chose which books to feature.

Trial run of setting up one of the cases

Now we are in the final stages of preparing for the opening. The walls of the exhibition space have been painted. The final case layouts have been decided. The exhibition catalogue is in the final stages of production. It seems unreal that the exhibition will be open to the public in less than a month, but the whole team is ready and excited.

The exhibition space, freshly painted for Growing Up With Books

Today we wanted to share some details of events that will be happening alongside the exhibition. We want everyone to get the very most out of Growing Up With Books, so we have organised a series of storytelling, creative writing, and book illustration workshops:

  • Storytelling: Enchanting Tales 10 June, Puppets and Prose 19 August, Magical Victorian Fairy Tales 8 September, Musical Stories 2 December
  • Children’s book illustration workshops: Rubber-Stamped Mini Books 9 June, Magical Story Books 23 June, Bookmark Beasts 7 July, Marvellous Puppets 22 September, The Spooky Enchanted Forest 13 October, The Biggest Explosion 3 November
  • Creative writing workshop for adults: Tunnel Books: Illusions and Stories 18 August
  • Creative writing workshop as part of Luminate festival: Stitching Stories 1 September

More details about these events (and others) to come soon! However, the fun does not stop with these workshops! In conjunction with Growing Up With Books, we are also speaking at Lauriston Castle about the project (25 September) and we are in the process of organising a conference to bring to bring together academics and archivists working with children’s history and literature (23 November).

Myself and SELCIE artist-in-residence, Katie Forrester, at the last exhibition planning meeting

The team is very excited about all of these things, and we can’t believe that we are so close to being able to share more of the stories that we have found hidden in the Museum’s archives. We are always delighted with the responses we receive to these stories, and cannot wait for the doors to open. (In fact, in other exciting news, it was just announced that the doors of the Museum of Childhood will be open 7 days a week from now on!) We want to thank everyone for coming on this journey with us, and we hope that you are enjoying it as much as we are. The countdown has begun!

This post written by Danielle

The First World War Through the Eyes of a Child

There are many elements of the Museum of Childhood collections that reflect what was happening in the world at the time they were made – fashion can be followed in the costume collection, technology in toy manufacture and popular film stars in dolls and magazines.

The book collection, however, offers a unique insight into not just what adults were communicating with children about the world, but also what the child thought about what was happening and what they were being told. Through inscriptions, drawings and hand-made publications by children we have access to their perspective on the world around them.  The Museum holds a series of magazines called The Pierot made by a group of children across Britain in 1910-1914. 

The authors were spread across the UK, with given addresses for Essex, Edinburgh, near Bristol, Yorkshire, County Down, County Derry, Fife, Suffolk, Kent and Hampshire.  The magazine was circulated by post, the cost of the stamp being the subscription fee, and each child would add their own contributions, remarks and advertisements, before passing it on to the next contributor. Those who held onto the magazine for more than 3 days were charged a fine of one pence for each additional day, which would be passed on to Dr Barnado Homes. There is an awareness of charitable acts represented throughout the magazines. It was common at this time to encourage children to raise money for charitable organisations and be aware of those less fortunate than themselves.

Seen throughout the editions of the magazine is the influence of the popularity of fiction and romantic stories, an interest in fashion with colour illustrations in watercolours, and poetry. The magazines are a creative output for the children, and they are also seeking validation from their peers on their efforts with pages for comments and votes for the best submissions at the back of the magazine – comparable to ‘likes’ on social media today.

The Camp at Lyndhurst written by Miss R Dent of Beacon Corner, Burley, Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forrest near the village of Lyndhurst, is a perfect example of the other subjects in the magazine, that of the children having an awareness of world events and an interest in them. As well as this article, there are several other references to the ongoing conflict in this edition and an advertisement that offers the sale of wooden toys with funds raised going to the Belgian Relief Fund.

The war had started in July of 1914, and by the autumn when this issue was circulated, the true horrors of what was to come had not even been grasped by the adults, let alone filtered down to children’s consciousness.









The Camp at Lyndhurst is written as a jolly tale of chatting to the soldiers and the men are making jokes about what will happen at the front – was this what the men naively believed war was to be like or were they making the best of it for the benefit of the children? The author describes the landscape: ‘The whole of the moor and links are covered with hundreds and hundreds of tents, soldiers are to be seen everywhere & the road which runs through the camp is blocked by every kind of traffic.  Last week the 7th division was temporarily encamped there previous to starting for the front via Southampton – they were delayed owing to the presence of German submarines in the Channel.’ This shows a good level of knowledge about the activities at the camp and the shipment of troops, gleaned from newspapers or adult conversations.









‘The first time we went over to see them we took about 100 appleswhich we threw to any soldiers we saw along the road.   One apple was badly thrown & it knocked off one of the men’s caps and hit him on the head A passing soldier said I hope the bullets won’t do that!  Everyman we asked if they were looking forward to going to the front answered with faces lighting up “I should think so” or “The sooner the better”’.  The author goes on to describe what batallions were in the camp, that they were marching in full kit for hours, what they wore, how there were big guns covered up and they were practising fixing bayonets: ‘It made one realize how very near the war was.’









There is a fascinating postscript saying that since writing the article the Scottish troops had left for the front and have been replaced in the camp by Indian troops, reflecting the fact that soldiers from all over the British Empire were brought into the conflict. The author describes in detail what they are wearing, how they ride bareback, and that their shoes were heelless. It is possible they hadn’t been given their uniforms for the front yet and were still wearing clothes more suited to the warmer climate of India: ‘They nearly all have bare legs and heelless slippers and they look rather cold.’ They are described as wearing turbans and were probably part of the 130,000 Sikhs who saw active service in the conflict.  Although accounting for just 2% of the population of British India at the time, the Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities.

On page 29 of the magazine, Elegy of a Dying War-Horse by C. Turton  shows a more realistic idea of what war must be like – ‘All around us lie bodies of dead men and dying, Some passive, and others contorted with pain, And one Highland laddie – a mere boy of twenty, Is groaning, and moans for his “mither and hame”‘. The poem speaks of the hot sun in the Indian valley. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson and tales of Clive of India would have been familiar to children at this time and would inspire heroic ideas about British soldiers and battles in faraway lands.

This September to October 1914 edition of The Pierot is the last one in the Museum’s collection. It isn’t clear if this was the last one made or not, but certainly as the authors got older their interests would have moved on. The magazines offer a wonderful insight into the lives of the children who contributed – their interests, concerns and creative talents – as well as a window into the world around them.

This post was written by Lyn